When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
La Strada (1954), which my grandmother was watching in Italian on TV. I must have been 7 or 8, and I was fascinated by it. Several years later, I saw Knife in the Water (1962) on PBS. There was no DVR in those days, so I had to make sure I was home to watch it every time they replayed it. I must have seen it 10 times!
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Boris Kaufman, ASC, for his stunning black-and-white work with Lumet and Kazan; Owen Roizman, ASC, because The French Connection was years ahead of its time; Gil Taylor, BSC, for his intense work on early Polanski films; and, of course, Gordon Willis, ASC, for The Godfather, which, in my opinion, changed everything!
What sparked your interest in photography?
My sister was married to a New York photographer in the late 1960s. Downtown New York was quite a scene, and I was seduced by it! At the same time, my interest in movies was growing, and the title ‘director of photography’ jumped out at me. I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Where did you train and/or study?
State University of New York at Purchase.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
German cinematographer Jürgen Jürges, BVK took me on as a camera assistant, and I worked with him on many movies. He was very generous in sharing his knowledge.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
I love still photographers Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, Irving Penn and Walker Evans.
How did you get your first break in the business?
I was 22 and looking for work in Europe, too naïve to realize how difficult it would be. I walked into a production office in Munich, and a producer there said he knew Jürgen Jürges was looking for an assistant. Jürgen and I met, and he hired me on the spot. I was not as qualified as I let on, but I gave it my best!
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
I was shooting Nil by Mouth in South London with Gary Oldman directing. One very cold day about two weeks into the shoot, we were doing a rain effect for a scene, and Gary and I both got soaked — we were probably the only ones not wearing great rain gear. It was miserable, but Gary and I had a good laugh about it, and he took the moment to tell me that the film looked and felt better than he had imagined it in his head. I was on a high for days after that. Also, getting to shoot for Sidney Lumet for 10 years was a dream come true. He was one of my idols growing up.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
After being a camera assistant in Germany for several years, I got a chance to take over a film that Jürgen had to leave for another project. Maximillian Schell was the star, and one day he suggested I shoot his POV at 32 fps to give the scene a slightly dreamy effect. The director and I loved the idea. It was early in the days of HMIs. Need I say more? The lab called early the next day. The director couldn’t have been more gracious, however. He said, ‘The reshoot will be even better!’
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘We’re all replaceable.’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
House of Cards on Netflix. Also, John Cohen’s photos of Kentucky and of Bob Dylan.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I’d love to shoot a psychological thriller without any violence, just tension!
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
I’d be a chef or a musician.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Bob Primes, Sol Negrin and Gerald Perry Finnerman.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
The invitation to join the ASC was a vote of confidence from my peers. It gave me an enormous boost. Living in New York limits my exposure to ASC events, but when we do have an event here, it’s almost daunting to be surrounded by colleagues with such talent and energy for our craft.